When you think of Bali, what is the vision you get? Is it infinity pools overlooking the jungle? Funky little beach bars perched on cliffs overlooking the surfers? Or perhaps beautiful religious temples and yoga retreats? All of these things are quintessential Bali. You can get all of those things and more quite easily. Focus on what kind of vibe you want to get from Bali and allow yourself some time to relax and fully immerse yourself in that activity.
If you’re going to Bali to surf, good. If you’re going to Bali to sunbathe and see perfect beaches, you might be disappointed. That’s not to say there aren’t beautiful beaches; there are. There are rugged ones, sandy ones, blue water, green water, etc. But there is trash in many locations and depending on the season, it can be uncomfortably hot. The garbage issue is an internationally recognized one. Famous surfers have brought attention to the situation. Bali knows they have a problem. To be honest, it is disheartening, but it is not unlike many other third world countries.
If you’re going to Bali for the jungle in the north, great cheap food, massages, waterfalls, incredibly friendly locals, to see temples, and to risk your life on a scooter for less than $5 per day, perfect! You will not be disappointed! Seriously. If I could do Bali over again, I’d spend 75% of my time exploring the northern area of Bali from Ubud. Don’t just stay in the southern part of Bali and take a day trip to Ubud. Immerse yourself in the jungle.
The number of incredible hotels, house rentals, huts, tree houses, resorts, etc. are plentiful. The creativity in Bali is endless. Check AirBnB for places with lots of great reviews. Look for a place to stay that inspires you and moves you. If you book an AirBnB through my link, you’ll receive a discount off your stay. Have an adventure. And for God’s sake, splurge for a private infinity pool at least once in your life. There is no better (and more affordable) place to do it than Bali. Check out some of the options HERE.
You need at least a few days in Ubud area. Give yourself a little time to wander the town and shop. Visit the Monkey Forest despite anyone telling you it’s touristy. Who cares? Don’t you want a monkey on your shoulder? Just watch your stuff; they like to grab loose items. And they will literally climb up you or jump on you in an instant, so don’t freak out. And you may end up with dribbled banana all over your shirt and hair. Whatever.
Waterfalls. Who doesn’t love a “take-your-breath-away” waterfall. They are plentiful in Bali and you should research them all to decide which you’d like to visit (or see them all!). We hired a driver for the day to take us to a number of places. We started from Ubud and went to Ulun Danu Beratan Temple first, then Sekumpul waterfalls. It was a long drive up there but Sekumpul was delightful. I can’t recommend a trip there enough. There are guides for hire when you arrive, and although you apparently can refuse their services, we accepted and were glad we did. Our guide was amazing. He carried our bags, leading the whole route with the safest and easiest places to step, as you are walking through the river some of the time, and he took pictures for us. Plus, you learn about a country by asking locals questions and we felt like we’d made a friend afterwards. Accessing Sekumpul waterfalls requires traveling down (and back up) many stairs and along slippery rocks across a river but it’s well worth the effort. There are two sets of falls in different directions and each is worth walking to and getting wet in the process. The invigorating energy of these falls will leave you mind blown. And can I just say, a GoPro is a necessity? I’m even going to go out on a limb and saw a selfie stick is worth it too.
Rice terraces, duh. There are two major ones popular for visiting. Tegalalang and Jatiluwih. Both are beautiful and you will get different opinions from different people saying one is better than the other. Just google pictures of each and decide which one “feels right” based on images. Or go to both and tell us your opinion in the comments. I loved Tegalalang; it was stunning. But there are the occasional hawkers and “caretakers” who require a donation at certain checkpoints. So bring some change with you. You can wander the entire field of rice terraces and it makes for incredible pictures. But limit your visit to early mornings or late afternoons. Not only is the lighting better, there are less people and less heat. By about 10 am, the sun was beating down on us and we were sweating, plus the masses started to arrive.
Beaches in Bali are plentiful and unique. And although I didn’t have time to venture to many beaches in the northern parts of Bali, I visited many in the southern part. This was when we loved having a scooter. We would google map our routes using the hotel Wifi (now I know better to download Google offline maps ahead of time), then we’d find our way from beach to beach, as well as Tanah Lot Temple. Don’t forget to wear a helmet. It was just so hot, we opted to leave them behind. Then we got pulled over at a random road block and fined for not having them. Oops. Bali is little tough to get around on your own. If you’re the type who is hesitant to drive in a third world country, this one will be no exception. But taxis are affordable and hotels will be happy to call one for you. We stayed on a cliffside above Bingin Beach, which was beautiful. And overall I found Balangan, Uluwatu, and Dreamland beach to be nice. But again, I wouldn’t make Bali my first choice for a beach destination unless you surf.
I swear there’s a temple of some sort on every block in every town in Bali, but especially Ubud. There are little woven palm leaf incense burning offerings to the gods sitting everywhere and you should avoid stepping on them out of respect. Some of the more popular temples are busy tourist destinations with hordes of people. Remember to dress properly, covering your shoulders and knees or some temples provide a coverup.
Hey, here’s an idea: take some design inspiration from Bali. If I could mimic any style in my own home, it would be Bali’s. No other design brings the outside in and the inside out like Bali. Here are some examples from our villas:
Some products to get a similar look to Bali style are the Tangkula Outdoor Retractable Canopy Bed, a Room Divider, this ridiculously cute Treasure Trove Accent Table, a Rattan Papasan Footstool, and an Indoor/Outdoor Rug to pull it all together.
The best way to design a Balinese inspired bathroom? Get a freestanding bathtub like THIS one and a rain shower head like THIS one, throw some smooth pebbles on the ground, some wood elements like THESE panels, and you’ve got a Bali bathroom. Tada!
We also took a couple days to visit the island of Gili Trawangan. It is the largest of the 3 Gili islands off the coast of Lombok. Originally a backpacker and party destination, Gili T is becoming more mainstream, appealing to a wider variety of guests. With just 800 residents, and no motorized vehicles allowed by local ordinance, you can see the entire island by bike or foot. For more information, you can read my post on Gili Islands HERE.
Bali is very deserving of a visit if you have certain expectations and not others. If you understand this is a third world country and much improvement in infrastructure is needed, you won’t be surprised by all the garbage and the lax traffic rules, or the fact that police take bribes. If you go to Bali to experience the peace and sanctuary of a jungle villa, participate in some yoga, take a jungle trek, meet some locals, and get some massages, perfect; you won’t be disappointed. There is a spiritual energy and beauty to Bali that is different than any other place. It’s touristy, undoubtedly, but it’s still special. Let the locals take you places and show you things. Splurge on a place that makes your heart flutter, get naked in your private plunge pool, indulge in breakfast poolside, and swim under a waterfall.